Easing into his new COO role at Marvel Enterprises, Bill Jemas is under a mountain of pressure to keep up an impressive winning streak that has seen him successfully revamp every division under his remit since rejoining the company as president of publishing, licensing and new media two years ago. Yet the next challenge on the drawing board for Jemas–building up Marvel’s trading card business–is more a labor of love and a return home than a daunting corporate chore.
Jemas started his kids entertainment career managing the NBA’s trading card activities, but he was soon poached by Flair Trading Cards. In addition to trading card games (TCGs) devoted to Beavis and Butthead and Waterworld, Flair also handled the highly active Marvel superhero license. ‘There was a point just five years ago when Marvel’s trading card business brought in more money than all its other businesses combined,’ says Jemas. ‘I’d like to get back into that market because trading cards are a great way to introduce kids to the Marvel characters. You do comic books in the millions, but you do trading cards in the billions.’
The first phase of the card comeback effort saw Marvel release its first TCG–Marvel Recharge–in December 2001. Jemas says the 250-card game is selling so well in comic distribution channels that a mass-market chain and a large toy chain have signed on to carry the leftovers from the first set, as well as an update set coming out in April that features characters from the big-screen Spider-Man release that’s slated to bow in early May.
Another opportunity that Jemas is working on expanding is Marvel’s reach into the preschool market, with Spidey leading the way. Toy Biz is debuting a line of chunky toddler-skewing action figures based on the tentpeg webslinger property at Toy Fair this month, and the look of the toys (see ‘Fighting back to former glory: Toycos spin new strategies to turn figural fortunes around’ on page 39) is drawing other licensees like flies to honey. Kids publisher Paradise Press got on-board early and is releasing a series of preschool books based on the toy line concept in April.
Jemas says that deals with major pajama and kids apparel licensees were being hammered out at press time, and the full line will debut at Licensing Show this June. ‘Buyers have really gone crazy for this look, and all indications point to Marvel having one of the first superhero hits with a very, very young demo.’